THE T:ZERO BLOG
Free advice, content and media for all. It's our way of giving back to the tri community who have given so much to us. Enjoy!
Lining up on the start line this year at the Ironman World Championship in 2019 was a pretty incredible experience. Although I had competed at this event on three occasions prior to this one, this year it was very different for two reasons.
Reflecting back on this, on race morning, I was acutely aware of the incredible density of human emotion packed into a very small area – the age group corrals before the swim start. If the tension and emotion could have been jammed into a bottle of start line champagne and then the cork popped, the spray would have easily covered the Big Island of Hawaii. Highly intense to say the very least.
From my own perspective, I sailed through race week with no hint of nerves or worry. The lead in to Kona is a busy week with expos, events and athlete catch ups – and lots of positive energy. Come race morning, it was a different story – and I had felt it before. That feeling of something being on the line, the slow creep of nausea at body marking, a rapid heartbeat and sweaty palms.
It was a classic sympathetic nervous system response – fight or flight. Was I reacting because I was in danger? Definitely not. It was just a triathlon, after all. When it came down to the nuts and bolts of what was happening, all it meant was that I cared about what was going to unfold. And if I interpreted it as a good sign, a positive sign – I could manage that response without it derailing my race.
There were 2000 athletes in those corrals experiencing some form of pre-race emotions before the start line that day. Emotions that had the potential to contribute positively or negatively to their day on course. I witnessed it. There were athletes in those corrals in tears, athletes sitting on the ground shaking, nervous overflowing chatter, those laughing, smiling, jumping up and down and those with blank stares. It was an interesting sight.
I am no psychologist. But as a coach and an athlete, I reckon those individual prerace emotions were highly likely to be linked to a number of factors.
All those factors feeding all that emotion - tightly crammed into a very small space. Super intense.
With the Aussie season in full swing, athletes in our neck of the woods are about to find themselves in similar situations at their own races. Pre-race emotions running rampant at race start lines. As an athlete, how do you prepare for this part of your race?
A great first step is to chat to your coach and work out the factors that are feeding your start line emotions. Work on those – confidence, preparation, belief, expectations, positivity and support to be in the best possible headspace leading into your event. Predict how you might feel and how you will manage your pre-race emotions. Practice your strategies before race day.
In my opinion, just like the emotions on the start line, the effective strategies to manage prerace emotions and that fight or flight response can be highly individual. Deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness and self -talk can all be used in the heat of the prerace circus. I am certain sports psychologists have more strategies to share.
In essence though, there is tremendous benefit in exploring and find a strategy that works for you. Being prepared for your race both physically and mentally is part of the ticket to a great race experience.
The next step is practice. Placing yourself in similar situations in training can help your practice your strategies – being mindful to create similar emotions around training races, unfamiliar or challenging workouts and training camps. Outside of training, visualisation of your start line with all of its sensory input can help create your pre race emotions and give you some experience at managing them.
So what was my strategy?
Lets go back to that Kona start line corral and the emotional overload of the athletes jammed inside it. How did I manage myself? Deep breathing works for me – big intentional diaphragmatic breaths to switch off that sympathetic response. It’s a common strategy, it is my go-to strategy, I have practiced it, and I know it works for me. So that is what I did.
Once my heart rate settled and the nausea dissipated, things then got rather fun keeping that right combination of anticipation and excitement in check.
Finding friends, laughing and chatting, jumping in front of the ironman paparazzi for photos. Hugging random strangers. All purposeful strategies in the “this is my A race of the year” start line corral. Totally odd behavior for me in real life. But whatever works on race day, hey!
Have fun exploring and finding your pre race strategy. Get after it!
An amazing collection of training and racing advice from the T:Zero Multisport coaches- with the occasional guest blogger! Read this blog to help you live your potential!